KABUL, Afghanistan — Facing severe criticism, American military officials in Afghanistan reversed course, announcing they would declassify some information they had only recently classified.
In a statement on Monday, Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, said much previously public data had been classified because it was mixed in with other sensitive information. Some of that unclassified data will be broken out from the classified data and again made available, he said.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction complained of an "unprecedented" move by American officials to classify information about the capabilities of Afghan national security forces and how some of billions of dollars in military aid had been spent. That information had been publicly available for the past six years, SIGAR officials said when they released their latest quarterly report last week.
"A large volume of the data requested by SIGAR, when viewed alone, is suitable for public release," Tribus said in an email statement. "However, releasable information was combined with related classified information, requiring it to be published in a classified annex" of SIGAR’s quarterly report.
SIGAR officials said on Tuesday they were still analyzing the released data — provided to them in hard copy in Kabul — to determine what information is now declassified. But Tribus indicated that details of ANSF capabilities would remain secret.
Such now-secret details shine a light on the foreign-trained and funded Afghan forces who have taken over responsibility for their country’s security. After more than a decade of assistance, amounting to some $65 billion, security forces face high attrition rates and rising casualties, while rampant corruption prevents many resources from ever making it into the fight.
Gen. John Campbell, who commands both U.S. forces and the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, made the decision to classify the information. In a memo to SIGAR he argued that releasing information that describes the state of Afghan forces would only help the Taliban and other insurgents.
"Just as we classify our own armed forces readiness reports, it is prudent for us as a reliable partner to do the same for the ANSF — especially considering that ANSF commands are now our primary source for that data and it is provided to us in a classified format," Tribus said in his statement. "Again, Gen. Campbell has not changed his position in regard to the importance of protecting ANSF readiness data, which remains classified."
U.S. military officials did not explain why information on ANSF capabilities had previously been unclassified, but they said their decision was backed up by Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani and top defense officials.
Gen. Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told Stars and Stripes he had seen coverage of the spat between SIGAR and the U.S. military, but he declined to comment or confirm any requests made by the Afghans.
Zubair Babarkarkhail contributed to this report.